Collaboration and know-how deliver low cycle times at Autohaus Collision
St. Louis—Autohaus BMW Mini Certified Collision Center in St. Louis has been busy lately, averaging 250-300 ROs a month for the past 15 months due to last winter’s storms and recent hailstorms, said Manager Patrick DePaepe, who gave credit to his experienced staff for meeting the challenge with their typical high-quality work.
“We had vehicles stacked in here like cordwood,” he said. “Our cycle times are excellent, which can be attributed to our factory-trained, veteran technicians and employees.” He added that the collision center repairs all makes and models, including high-end cars with a focus on BMWs and Minis.
DePaepe, who said he has been in the body shop business for 25 years, nearly four of which with Autohaus, and his assistant manager, Lisa Stelling, oversee three production bodymen, a shop foreman, two painters, two detailers, and an apprentice bodyman for minor bumper and “fastlane” jobs.
“Because of their experience and collaboration, it’s like a machine running through here,” he said. “They take a lot of pride in their work and want the customer to be happy. When there’s longevity, there’s no wasted materials and they know how long a job will take.”
The shop was unusually quiet for a Friday afternoon during Parts & People’s interview — but not without reason. DePaepe said he schedules Wednesdays and Thursdays as the shop’s delivery days because he doesn’t want Fridays to be rushed or have a job postponed if something unexpected occurs.
To further ensure delivery and improve cycle time, Autohaus will be investing in more diagnostic equipment for Asian and European makes and models because it is increasingly seeing more Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and other high-end vehicles arriving in the shop, DePaepe said.
“If we can diagnose during the blueprint, we can avoid a lot of last-minute part ordering. If we can get a 95-percent estimate from a blueprint we can speed our parts ordering, technicians will know where they need to start the repair, and the estimate will be more complete for the insurance adjusters.”
Success with BASF
DePaepe said Autohaus uses BASF Glasurit because it’s high-quality and Glasurit is an approved BMW paint. When they eventually switch to waterborne, he said, Autohaus will keep BASF because of its excellent reputation and service. “BASF support is phenomenal and keeps my staff trained. If there’s ever an issue or question, our account manager, Keith Barbero from FinishMaster, is here in a New York minute. If he sees a paint expiring on our shelf he’ll even pull it and credit us.”
BASF uses a computerized mixing system that determines the cost of paint to be used once it’s entered into an RO, DePaepe said. “It’s useful to illustrate to insurance companies the cost of paint and materials for big jobs that they might have capped at a lower amount — it’s a justification. With BASF’s system, I can wirelessly access an RO and print out a cost analysis for a job.”
Autohaus has three paint booths: a Pyramid for prepping and priming, and two Blowtherm downdraft booths that were used up to three runs a day due to the recent high volume, he said. The shop replaced the Blowtherm filters every three weeks during that time for quality assurance, DePaepe added.
The biggest challenge running a collision shop today is educating insurance companies that the estimating program is an “estimating guide” — not the “estimating bible,” said DePaepe, who added that Autohaus technicians use various online resources for repairs and technical support when building estimates using Audatex.
“You need to repair a vehicle back to pre-accident condition in accordance with manufacturer procedures,” he said, adding that insurance companies will often try to save costs by requesting different materials and parts. “The customer is my customer, not the insurance company. Repair methods aren’t dictated to us.”
DePaepe said Autohaus has only three DRPs, with whom they have a great rapport. “We are very selective,” he said, because Autohaus doesn’t want to be under contract with a DRP and forced to repair a vehicle in a manner it deems unacceptable — and it also wants to get compensated for all work performed. “If it goes on the car, you have the right to get paid for it.”
Though OE parts are preferred (and required when repairing BMWs), Autohaus provides insurance companies with wiggle room to allow aftermarket parts according to how their policies are structured, DePaepe said, and will work with its DRPs to its customers’ benefit.
“Our parts department is excellent at matching cost, getting the right part, and repairing the vehicle properly,” he said. For quality recycled OEM and aftermarket parts, DePaepe said he relies primarily on LKQ Keystone, as well as Modern Imports & American, and LKQ Metro. “They know us well and the quality we expect.”
Autohaus always prefers to repair rather than replace, but when it comes to high-strength steels, replacements are sometimes necessary, DePaepe said. “For rigidity, we don’t want to weaken advanced steels either by pulling or heating. We try to repair center pillars or rockers when we can — I think it makes for better quality repair.”
Autohaus uses MillerMatic MIG and TIG welders, though he said many manufacturers are trending away from welding and moving toward bonding and riveting for panels and inner structures. “It really works well, speeds up the repair, and is more environmentally sensitive,” he said. They depend on a Wieland & Schill rivet extractor machine, BMW midi-spot welder, and a BMW pneumatic press riveter for specialty and quarter-panel repairs.
The facility features two Celette benches with the majority of available fixtures, two Challenger lifts , and RTI A/C machines.
DePaepe said Autohaus is also aluminum-certified and performs repairs for other body shops on models such as the BMW 5 Series. “I’ve had them come from as far as Springfield, Ill., which makes our staff proud and happy because we’re fast and we do it right. Kenny Kroeger is my senior bodyman and he’s dynamite as well as my other techs.
“For a small shop, we accomplish a lot. We’re all in it for one goal — customer satisfaction.”